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State plans 75 meetings to get input on spending $6.7 billion from American Rescue Plan

Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
State Government
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Gov. Steve Sisolak stands behind a podium at a press conference, alongside Treasurer Zach Conine and Attorney General Aaron Ford.

As Nevada prepares to expend $6.7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds over the next five years, state officials say they need help figuring out how to spend the money.

Though roughly $4 billion of those American Rescue Plan funds are restricted for more than a hundred different purposes — everything from a $164,000 allocation for paratransit tomore than $1 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for K-12 schools — state leaders are  seeking feedback from the public on how to best spend the remaining funds.

The effort will kick off in earnest this week through a planned series of 75 meetings over the next 75 days involving key interest groups, Gov. Steve Sisolak, other members of the executive branch and legislative leaders.

“We need help,” Treasurer Zach Conine said during a briefing with reporters on Monday. “We need help from the rest of the state to tell us the things that are wrong and how we can fix them. The state has an unprecedented amount of money and an unprecedented amount of work in front of it.”

Conine said that the state will be conducting the “Nevada Recovers Listening Tour” from August through October, with the tour kicking off on Tuesday in Las Vegas at an event with himself, Sisolak and other Nevada leaders. Though details of the full tour have not been announced, Conine said all corners in the state will have a chance to weigh in on spending priorities.

“We'll go to West Wendover, Winnemucca, Henderson, Boulder City and everywhere in between,” he said.

At the kickoff event on Tuesday, Sisolak, Conine and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) delivered speeches highlighting the tour and the desire to make long-term investments over short-term spending.

“This represents the largest investment that the federal government has ever made in the state of Nevada,” Sisolak said. “While it may be tempting to try and spend this money quickly, make headlines and get it out there, we have a responsibility to make sure that this money is invested deliberately and intentionally.”

During the tour, the state will collect feedback from the public, with the help of Las Vegas-based public relations firm Purdue Marion. After that, the state will spend the next several months summarizing the feedback through a spending roadmap, with the help of a yet-to-be-named vendor. 

That roadmap will form the basis of future state plans on which new programs and services will be funded by American Rescue Plan dollars, likely beginning around the end of the year or the start of next year. Conine said the long-term planning strategy was necessary to avoid overlap between different pots of restricted and unrestricted federal dollars — likening it to paying with a gift card versus paying with cash.

“A lot of this is a coordinating exercise,” Conine said. “We think about it like that whole $6.7 billion pot, even though we don’t control all of that directly.”

Nevada’s $6.7 billion for spending comes from 103 different streams, with the largest stream being the state’s general allocation of $2.7 billion, which lawmakers accepted during a June meeting of the Interim Finance Committee. But some allocation of those dollars has already begun.

In the waning days of the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed SB461, which set initial spending priorities for the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan funds. The bill established backfilling lost state tax revenue as the first priority, followed by disbursements of $335 million to repay the federal government for unemployment trust fund loans. It also included:

  • $20.9 million to address COVID-19
  • $7.6 million to address food insecurity amidst the pandemic
  • $6 million for the Collaboration Center Foundation to help people with disabilities affected by the pandemic
  • $5 million for the Nevada ABLE Savings Program
  • $4 million for the Dean’s Future Scholars Program at the University of Nevada, Reno

President Joe Biden signed the landmark, $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law in March, but guidance from the U.S. Treasury on how the billions in federal COVID aide dollars could be spent was only published in early May — just weeks before the end of Nevada’s 120-day legislative session, kicking many of the spending decisions to the interim. 

Conine said he did not yet know how much of the state’s $2.7 billion will be used to backfill lost revenue, but he noted that the state is aiming to be as transparent as possible through the spending process. He said that the state plans to launch a public database of all the ideas for spending that the state receives.

This graph shows how Nevada's $6.7 billion in American Rescue Plan funds are distributed across categories. (Courtesy of the state treasurer's office)

Update: This story was updated on August 3, 2021 at 5:07 p.m. to include comments from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

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